It's teacher hunting season!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NYT sells WQXR radio to ... WNYC & Univision!

The New York Times has decided to sell its classical radio station, WQXR, presently at 96.3 FM. (Personally, I credit Hugh Hamilton, the host of WBAI's "Talk Back," for bringing this news to the radio airwaves this afternoon.) The station began as a mainly classical music station in 1936, it launched its FM station in 1939, and it had been a Times property since 1944, from wikipedia.

And purchasing the station is the listener-supported, National Public Radio affiliated station, WNYC, and the Spanish-language commercial television network, Univision.

This appears to be a desperate arrangement from a number of angles. First, from the Times' side, it has been losing millions in the current freefall collapse of commercial daily newspapers. So, it sought to sell off one asset.

And from the side of the station, it will be a great loser. It will shift from the middle of the FM dial to the top or right edge of the dial, to 105.9 WCAA, a Univision radio property will move from that upper range position to WQXR's position.
The 96.3 signal broadcasts from a transmitter with 6,000 watts, reaching 42 miles and 17.1 million people. The 105.9 transmitter has a 600 watts signal, reaching 30 miles and 12.6 million people.

And the employment-side of the equation is reminiscent of restructured companies or restructured schools: the nineteen full-time and two part-time employees will have to reapply for their jobs.

The Times article, the source for the above information intimated that the ownership change "could alter its character." Yet it quoted WNYC's chief executive officer, for reassuring words, “We will not only look to continue those relationships [with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the Julliard School], but to extend and expand and deepen them.”

But one cannot but help think that WNYC's acquisition of WQXR could carry a different perspective of music and mission. First, the station has a record of curtailing music: in the early 1990s the station carried an over-night music program, and it carried daytime music, albeit with an extremely disconcerting host, Steve Post. This features were curtailed over the course of the 1990s, and the final death blow came amidst the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.
Also, the station has been trending away from the standard presentation of classical music or concert music. It replaced the more traditional David Garland with the more modern and eclectic Terrance McKnight. (I enjoy his creative juxtaposition of music selections, but as one can see from the message board pages at the station, the replacement with McKnight has not been without controversy.) And in the late night hour, and particularly on weekends, it has broadcast canned music with canned-sounding voices, as opposed to the warm, spontaneous voices of local hosts.

Alas, with public school systems' wholesale elimination of music programs, particularly music appreciation programs, particularly in New York City, the mission of classical music stations is a precarious one. The elimination of music appreciation or school bands/ orchestras has meant the growth of generations of students with little appreciation for classical music --or jazz music, for that regard. Is it any wonder that popular music these days usually lacks the playing of instruments, or that rap, the chanting upon repeated sound-machine sounds, represent the leading trends of popular music these days?
(Some other things we can expect to vanish from the new WQXR: the markers as the station of the upper classes: the stock reports, the occasional ads for bonds or other investment vehicles. Some great features have already left the station: the lower-tech announcements of the next day's Times front page and editorials have been replaced by announcements from Bloomberg News. --Any wonder that there are fewer damaging articles on the administration in the Times than in the Daily News??)
So, more than buttressing the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera or the Julliard School is at stake. The new WQXR could serve as a platform for re-generating an audience for "concert music."
There is no word yet as to when the actual transition of stations (WQXR to 105.9 and WCAA to 96.3) will take place.


  1. Sorry- This stuff needs to be answered.

    First, there has been a veritable revolution in Music at WNYC, beginning with the great work of George Preston and Brad Cresswell in the creation of wnyc2, the 24 hour 128kbit stereo mp3 stream. That influence has pervaded a newly resurgent Evening Music, only enhanced by the advent of Terrance McKnight.

    Terrance asked for interaction and he got it, seemingly mostly at first from the Upper West Side, where everyone needs to have something to say.

    David was never on seven nights. He was on four nights, now three nights. So what? He is joy.

    Over night music has two hosts, Nadia Sirota, and Helga Davis. They are not remote. They do other projects at the station. Nadia just subbed for Terrance and she was a rock during the Cage project.

    You guys even went after Steve Post here. Steve had a huge following among the listeners.

    WQXR has been a pit of mediocrity for decades. I cna only hope that its culture will disappear.

  2. I, too, think that there's been "more light than heat" in connection with this radio "juggling act." By which I mean, classical music lovers are - I think it's safe to say - a way more educated and articulate than most group, and they obviously have strong feelings about a change that affects something they value highly. However, sometimes the facts get lost amidst the rhetoric.

    WNYC is engaged in "spinning" this deal big time because - masters of communication that they are - they know that the more you look, the less you're gonna like. (Call it a mix of the "big lie" with "pre-emptive attack.")

    Everybody knows what a joke "battery life" is. "COVERAGE" - as in "how far away can this or that radio station be heard" - is another "your milage may vary" kinda thing ... and vary! BY A WHOLE HECKOFA LOT.

    Bottom line, a huge number of WQXR's listeners are going to call this the ultimate "denial of service" attack. It's not just in far-away suburbs - WNYC knows that even the crude maps on the web show that some of WQXR's listeners are going from in-range to out of range.... MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, given NY City's many tall buildings, Lincoln Center residents and those on the Lower East Side, among many others, will be treated to dramatically inferior listening - and, as many have pointed out, this is a rather more important issue when it comes to broadcast classical music than it is with "talk radio."

    BUT - last and WORST - by migrating everything that ISN'T "talk" from 93.9 to 105.9, WNYC is kicking classical music, in particular, in a very sensitive spot.

    That is, WHATEVER your view of this or that WNYC personality or show, when somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of its listeners lose it, that hurts! And when another 10-30 percent complain that the amount of static has increased, how does that represent anything other than WNYC being derelict in its duty to this important and sizable portion of its listner base?!

    Did I say "WORST" before?! I goofed. What's even worse than the preceding - bad as that is - is that $15 million has been earmarked to this act of vandalism. I'm sure Emanuel Ax was not "bought off," but one has to wonder if this Western Mass. resident HAS A CLUE as to what's about to transpire in and around NY CITY.

    Even if the very generous Greene and Spitzer families were picking up the whole tab, rather than 50% thereof, as WNYC management has outlined, there can be not a doubt in the world that the money could be spent more intelligently.

    But to think that their money AND OUR MONEY is being spent in a way that will be diametrically opposed (that is, LESS, rather than MORE, classical music on air, measured by LISTENER-HOURS!!) to the stated goal ... is nothing short of obscene.

  3. The original blog entry is thoughtful. Alas, the sole response is not. Mr. Mitnick is one of a very small (in New York, it's not a "handful," but "coterie" would seem like an accurate description) of "new music" afficianados who revel in the few hours per week that WNYC currently programs to their liking. (Programming, I should add, that's alienated more WNYC listeners than it's captivated - needless to say, WQXR's "Mozart was the last composer whose work I find listenable" audience will find the likes of Terrance McKnight and what he plays no more palatable than rap music.)

    Of course, WNYC has come to believe that after 7 PM every evening, most New Yorkers have "better things to do" than listen to their radios, and music programming serves for public radio what reality TV does for the networks - fills hours with relatively low cost programming.

    Alas, it's a vicious circle - by presenting programming that at most 2% of the potential listenership will enjoy - with (as the blog points out) a host far better suited to a college radio station than the big stage he now occupies - they consign a significant portion of the broadcast day to near-zero listenership. (In due course, WNYC management will put its income statement ahead of any "mission" to serve this cult-like crew, and Mr. Mitnick will scream, "We've been betrayed.")

    The shift in frequencies is such that most of WQXR's current listeners will fall away simply by virtue of not being able to pick up the new frequency or pick it up with the clarity that good music demands.

    And the $15 million that WNYC estimates this fiasco will cost it ... could surely be put to better use. If it weren't for the jobs, most Americans believe that pretty much every automobile factory in the U.S. could be repurposed or even closed to advantage. Radio stations - especially for public radio - are even more clearly a "last century" artifact.

    Given the fact that even a public radio station has to raise (well, in a big city) millions of dollars each year, classical music (ALAS!) is a non-starter. The arguments for and against the government paying for it are interesting and closely divided, but anyone with half a brain recognizes that whatever future exists for classical music at this juncture ... is internet-based. Fortunately, there's a reasonably "pretty picture" in that regard, so "R.I.P." strikes me as the most sensible posture to take w.r.t. FM broadcasting of the genre.

  4. What a severe disappointment that WQXR changed their frequency. I live near Stony Brook,Suffolk Co. Long Island and I can no longer get this station in any way, shape, or form. I never changed the 96.3 setting on my car radio and found the music uplifting and relaxing.By selling this station and format, they have relegated it to the same demise as the "oldies Station". I will NEVER be listening to anything of theirs again. THANKS FOR NOTHING! A very ANGRY listener